• Mon
  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 8:23pm

Mad about the watch

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am

One of my favourite books is A Rebours, by French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans. Written in 1884, and published as Against Nature in Britain and Against the Grain in the United States, it's really about nothing much at all. There's no real plot, no thrilling sword fights, no glamorous wenches, yet it caused a storm throughout Europe when it was first published. The book's protagonist, Jean Des Esseintes, disgusted by his bourgeois existence, withdraws to his country estate to indulge his aesthetic whims, clothe himself in lavish gowns and meditate on his decadent possessions, which include a bejewelled tortoise that dies from wearing too much bling.

A Rebours is a quintessentially eccentric book about a quintessentially eccentric character. Des Esseintes, like other idiosyncratic characters, does things, says things and fundamentally thinks things that are a little bit off kilter, a touch odd, but are undeniably fascinating and trend-setting.

By and large, and as long as things are on the right side of weird, eccentricity and eccentric design provide fun and diverting breaks from the norm and nowhere is that more true than in watch design. Swiss watchmaker FP Journe's mission statement, one almost feels, must have been written by Des Esseintes himself, judging by the products, and is most neatly encapsulated by the Octa UTC released earlier this year. Available in either platinum (top) or rose-gold casings, the FP Journe Octa UTC features what might be the most decadently complex time-zone indicator available in the luxury-watch market. I don't have the space to fully explain how the time-zone indicator works, or what all the various dials allude to, but it is geography specific and is able to adjust for summer and winter time savings, which is almost unheard of on an analogue piece. With a monstrous power reserve that means you don't have to rewind it for more than four days, you have to admire the over-the-top complexity of the Octa UTC. Recommended retail prices start at HK$350,000.

Not to be outdone, French jeweller Chaumet has been making rather quirky watches for some time. The Chaumet Dandy Metronome (below left), in particular, should tickle the fancy of the budding Beau Brummells of today. The Dandy Metronome comes in a rather striking black and ivory and the key features of the face are the oversized numeral at the 12 o'clock position and the metronome-shaped small second hand at six o'clock. Released last year, the watch was built to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Polish composer Frederic Chopin, who once lived where Chaumet's current Paris salon is located. The Dandy Metronome is limited to 100 numbered units with prices available upon request.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 (below) is pure elegant madness. Costing a cool HK$2.7 million and housed in a swivelling Reverso case, this watch is the second spherical tourbillon watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre. A tourbillon is a mechanism that counters the effect of gravity on the watch parts and thus improves accuracy. There is, however, a debate as to whether modern watches even need them; modern tourbillons are almost superfluous adornments. The spherical nature of the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 just adds to the notion the lily has been gilded on this timepiece, but for me there is so much added charm for that.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 comes in a platinum case, with a black alligator strap and has a power reserve of up to 50 hours.

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